Florida coach Billy Donovan kept the door open for Cody Larson. But he doesn’t expect the 6-foot-9 big man from South Dakota to walk through it.
Donovan said he would let Larson back on the team if he decided he wanted to come back. Larson left the team on Friday to focus on his personal life and academics.
“If there’s anyone who knows about changing his mind, it’s me,” said Donovan, a self-deprecating jab at his six-day stint with the Orlando Magic in 2007. “I think right now for Cody if he legitimately felt like you know what, a week, two weeks from now, I miss this, I made a huge mistake, we’re not bringing anyone in right now, he could come back to our team.”
There is precedence. In 2009, Donovan welcomed forward Alex Tyus back to the team after he said he was transferring following his sophomore season. The 6-foot-8 Tyus was upset at the prospect of having to play center for a second straight season.
Larson lost his scholarship at UF last spring because Donovan said he failed to meet responsibilities on and off the court. But Donovan said he noticed a positive chance in Larson during the summer and fall. Donovan said Larson is back on track academically.
“I’m really proud of the strides that he’s made in his personal life taking accountability, responsibility,” Donovan said. “I think it’s the first time I’ve been with Cody in two years that I actually feel like he’s critically thought about his future, his career, his life away from basketball.”
On the court, Donovan said Larson also was blossoming.
“Cody, without question in September, with individual workouts, and then certainly the first 10 days of practice, first week of practice, was playing the best basketball that I’ve seen him play,” Donovan said.
Then why leave? Donovan said that Larson approached him during practices and said he fell out of love with basketball.
“For him, it’s just an assessment of his life,” Donovan said. “And I think it’s hard when you are a player that comes from a small state, you’ve got these Mike Miller comparisons and all of those things and he comes to Florida.
“I think this is the first time he’s stepped up and said, ‘This is how I feel, this is what I’m going through and I’m not so sure this is what I really want for my life.’ I don’t think it’s a bad decision, it’s a wrong decision. I think it’s his decision on what he feels is best for him.”
Larson will stay at Florida until the end of the semester. Donovan said he doesn’t know if Larson has any plans at the moment to try to transfer to another school.
“Right now, everything is on the table,” Donovan said. “He may try to graduate from Florida and play again, he may go somewhere and play, he may stay here and leave. I would say the direction where he goes is unclear to him.”
Donovan said the loss of Larson is a blow to the Gators this season. With junior transfer center Damontre Harris out four months after shoulder surgery, it’s another big body gone in practice. It’s also forced Donovan to consider 6-foot-6 Casey Prather to play at power forward if Patric Young and/or Erik Murphy get into foul trouble.
“Because of his departure, you are taking away a physical body,” Donovan said. “Right now, with Murphy and Patric, those are the two guys I would say right now that are going to play that have legitimate size, girth, big body guys.
“Will (Yeguete) to a certain extent is an undersized power forward even though he’s been playing that power forward spot and has been a great rebounder, loose ball guy. But certainly Cody leaving provides some depth issues there.”